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Tone Woods

How much does the top laminate matter? Depends on your sensitivity to the subtle tonal changes with different top woods. For most people, especially on neck through models, you are free to chose the wood that you appreciate for its appearance alone. Most people can hear a bight Maple top and a warm Vermilion top, and everything else has a similar sound. There is always the crown jewel of bass tone woods, Coco Bolo, with it's complex bright and dark mix. Of course, some people have very sensitive hearing, and will choose woods based on their tone alone.

On our neck through body instruments, the top and body woods have very little effect on the tone. Since the strings don't go over a neck joint, the sustain is increased and the body's influence over the tone is lessened.

On the set-neck models, the neck does not isolate the body as much from the total sound picture. When you change the top wood on one of these models, you notice it more.

Keep in mind that these guidelines are for Alembic basses alone. Other makers build instruments differently than we do and our advice won't apply with them.

Body Options

Most of our instruments have a Honduras Mahogany (Swietinia macrophylla) body. Mahogany is a very neutral wood, both in color and sound, and allows for flexibilty in top wood choices as well as consistency of tone from bass to bass. The honey color of Mahogany complements all the top laminates we offer.

For some customers, a Maple body is preferred. Maple is heavier and brighter sounding than Mahogany. If you need to cut cleanly through a wall of distorted guitars, than you’ll probably enjoy a Maple body.

Recently, we introduced the Excel bass with an Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) body. Ash has a smiliar density to Maple, but isn't quite as bright sounding, with a focused midrangy "honk".

We have occasionally used Walnut (Juglans spp.) and Cherry (Prunus spp.) as body woods. Walnut usually has a rather dark color and Cherry is heavier than Maple. Customers have even gone so far to to send us their own special woods for building their dream axe.

You can also change the body shape. Check the Body Shape Guide for an illustrated guide of our bass body shapes.

Neck Options

We've tried scores of woods in combination and found that hard, clear rock maple is the most reliable wood for better portion of the neck. The sound is consitent from neck to neck and maple is very stable.

Purpleheart Neck Laminates: When added to a neck, Purpleheart increases rigidity, making the neck less susceptible to movement, and helps with fundamental sustain. For four string basses, we use 2 Purpleheart laminates with 3 Maple. In a five string, 3 Purpleheart and 4 Maple. Six strings get 5 Purpleheart with 6 Maple.

Deluxe Purpleheart Neck Laminates: uses three Purpleheart laminates in four string necks.

Ebony Neck Laminates: For the ultimate in fundamental sustain, we add ebony neck laminates. Fundamental and second harmonic decay at about the same rate, and produce the largest bass tone imaginable.

You can also change the peghead shape on most models.

Scale Length

There's lots of hoopla over extended scale length basses these days. Some of it is founded, but it's hard to separate the hype from the facts. Adding an inch to a standard long scale increases the length by just under 3%. On bolt-on neck instruments, you will notice an increase in sustain that you can hear. The audible effect is less noticeable on neck throughs. From tests with our basses, we find most people have a hard time hearing a 35 inch scale on Alembics.

However, there is a noticable difference in the mechanical feedback you get from the string. It feels stiffer, because it is. If the floppiness of a standard 34 inch scale B string bothers you and interferes with your musical thoughts, you should try out an extended 35 or 36 inch length.

Also, people often dismiss medium and short scale basses all too quickly. If you have short fingers, a medium scale can be just the ticket for making first position comfortable for you. And just in case there is any doubt about good tones from shorter scales, just listen to Stanley Clarke; his Alembic basses are all a short 30.75 inch scale. If you heard a short scale bass in the late sixties and thought it sounded bad, let's just say that the scale length wasn't the only reason :)

Again, please remember that this information is all in regards to Alembic instruments. Other makers employ different construction methods that may affect the tone change from scale length differently.

Bass scale lenghts defined:

  1. 30.75 = short
  2. 32.00 = medium
  3. 34.00 = long
  4. 35.00 = extra long
  5. 36.00 = extra extra long
Guitar scale lenghts defined:
  1. 23.250 = short
  2. 24.625 = medium
  3. 25.500 = long
  4. 28.000 = baritone
All instruments come standard with 24 fret fingerboards. Scale length is independent from fret number.

Fingerboard Options

Ebony is our choice for all our bass and guitar fingerboards (except the Excel which uses Pau Ferro). It is a very strong dense wood, and will stand up to years of playing and refretting. All fingerboards are a full two octaves (24 frets).

Our fretless unlined fingerboard is a no charge option on all our basses. Aluminum side position dots are placed where the fret would be, with three dots at the 12th and 24th fret positions.

For a lined fretless, we inlay maple fretlines for our lined fretless basses. If you want a lower contrast wood for the lines, we suggest koa. Lots of other companies use plastic for fretlines, but you wind up with little fret-like ridges as the wood shrinks and the plastic doesn’t. Side position dots are placed in the normal, mid-fret position on a lined fretless with two dots at the 12th and 24th fret positions.

With a custom fingerboard width you can have the ultimate in playing comfort. Simply tell us the dimensions for the nut and 24th fret, and we’ll build it that way. Or, you can send us an instrument and we can duplicate the neck, feel and all. This is a no charge option on all instruments except: Excel, Essence, Epic, and Orion.

The surface of the fingerboard where the frets are installed is referred to as the fingerboard radius. We use a relatively flat twelve inch radius for all bass and guitar fingerboards. Some people order a flatter or more severely curved fingerboard radius. Do not confuse this with the back of the neck, which we refer to as the neck feel.

By default, all of our instruments are fitted with 1/16" aluminum side dots, except the Series II which comes standard with red LEDs. The bronze dots and optional silver dots are inlaid 1/8” into the side of the fingerboard and will not wear off. We put the side dots at the center of each of the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 15th, 17th, 19th, and 21st positions, with two dots at the 12th and 24th positions. For fretless basses, check the fretless options above for side dot placement.

For people who play on dark stages, having side LEDs instead of the standard bronze dots is more of a necessity than a luxury. Well, they are also just cool. The LEDs are mounted on a thin strip of ebony that we inlay under the tangs of the frets after the bass is fretted. For Series I and II basses, power for LEDs is from the external rackmounted power supply through the 5-pin jack. For mono basses, we route a separate 4-battery compartment on the back of the instrument. Power for the output of the bass is still from the standard 9V battery and completely independent from the LEDs, so if you let the LED batteries run down, you won’t lose the signal from the bass. We arrange them the same way as the side dots described above. The LEDs come on automatically when you plug your bass in. Side LEDs can be ordered in red, amber, or green.

Front LEDs are for your audience. They are mounted in the center of each of the oval position markers, or you can opt for the LEDs alone, with no ovals. The LEDs come on automatically when you plug your bass in. You can order front LEDs in red, amber or green.

Ok, here’s something for the true showman. Laser LEDs aren’t really lasers, but they sure feel like them at one thousand times brighter than our regular side LEDs. They are actually large 1/4” diameter aluminum gallium arsenide LEDs that are about 2 candlepower each. You can see their light under heavy stage lights for a vast distance, and from a dark stage, they can really get a crowd going. Mark King had the very first Laser LEDs. Laser LEDs come with an on/off switch near the output jack.

Inlay Options

Our graduated oval inlays have been an Alembic trademark since 1971, our two octave fingerboards have ten oval inlays available in a variety of materials. Mother of pearl, golden mother of pearl, black Tahitian mother of pearl, abalone shell, and laminated abalone are all options for our oval inlay pattern. We can even use various woods for the ovals. Instruments that come standard with inlays are fitted with mother of pearl ovals. Inlays sure don't have any effect on the sound of fretted instruments, and so to keep prices lower, Excel, Epic, Orion, and Essence basses come with blank fingerboards. On a fretless bass, we recommend no inlays, since as you slide over different materials, the tone changes.

For a personal touch, we can inlay two initials in a silver bound oval at the twelfth fret on any instrument. The oval border keeps the traditional inlay pattern consistent and we can make the initials from either mother of pearl or abalone. We use a type style like the gothic script found in our logo.

Our Dragon inlay is a masterpiece work of inlay art. The body is mother of pearl, with each individual scale inlaid in abalone. The dragon’s feet are copper with bone claws. Brass forms the ribbed belly of the dragon. Bone ridges line the back of the beast and a vermilion touge lashes at the his breath. We take gold dust and suspend it in an optically clear epoxy for the dragon’s breath. Eyes can be rubies or LEDs. Susan Wickersham designed our dragon inlay back in 1976.

The Tree of Life is another inlay masterpiece by Susan Wickersham. The intertwining silver vines are graced by leaves made from various types of mother of pearl and abalone. Its beauty is drawn from the wavy silver wire and generously large shell pieces. Our first Tree of Life was made in 1972, and our current design was originally made for John Paul Jones in 1976.

Big silhouettes in mother of pearl of sea eagle, kike, opsrey, Egyptian vulture, and others grace this Susan Wickersham design. These are not blob-like shapes; talons, claws and flight feathers are all carefully detailed.

We use sheet silver for the alchemy inlay. Ancient symbols representing a host of ingredients the alchemists used in their pursuit of gold.

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